Syndication Marketplace Heats Up

Launch plans for new shows come into focus

Now that The Oprah Winfrey Show is set to sign off after next season, syndicators have started to develop launch plans for the shows they've been preparing, with an eye toward time slots that will open up after the talk show juggernaut's departure.

“The Oprah announcement probably lit up a lot of people's phones,” says one studio executive.

CBS Television Distribution's Swift Justice With Nancy Grace, which cleared in 80% of the country in two-year deals as of last week, represents the first non-court first-run strip declared a firm go for the fall of 2010. Stations will air two original half-hour episodes of the show back to back in one-hour blocks.

Several other first-run entries are being considered for fall 2010 launches, including Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution's MomLogic; Sony's Harpo-produced strip starring Nate Berkus; Trifecta's animated entertainment newsmag Tooned In; and CTD's The Lawyers, created and produced by Stage 29's Jay McGraw.

Likely for 2011 is Warner Bros.' Lifechangers, being developed out of the company's entertainment magazine, Extra.

Several more new shows should emerge. Indeed, by the time the last Oprah show airs on Sept. 9, 2011, stations will likely have several choices to fill those Oprah time slots—or other slots in the day that open up if existing shows are moved to replace it. But as broadcasters weigh the devils they know, the devils they don't know and how to pay for them, filling those plum slots is anybody's game.

“Certainly no one's anointed anybody as successor for the Oprah time periods—not a person, show or production company,” says the studio executive.

Three court shows also have been announced, and all of them are expected to launch in fall 2010: Litton's Judge Karen's Court; Trifecta's Judge Heck; and Entertainment Studios' America's Court With Judge Ross. The latter is a special situation because Entertainment Studios also has six high-definition networks on Verizon's FiOS broadband systems to fill with content; thus Judge Ross is a gono matter how many time slots the show secures on stations.

In addition, three syndicators are shopping off-cable strips to stations in all-barter, one-year deals that all look to be a go (“Can Off-Cable Get Stations On Track?” Oct. 19).

While there seems to be an abundance of shows in the mix for next fall, there is still no real cash in the station market, say syndicators, which is why the off-cable shows are getting traction. Nancy Grace is the first all-barter first-run show that CTD has distributed, with the stressed market dictating those terms.

Warner Bros. intended to seek cash-plus-barter deals for MomLogic, but the market for that show tightened when the Fox stations elected instead to renew Debmar-Mercury's Wendy Williams. Now sources say that MomLogic is being offered to stations for all-barter in one-year deals.

The most likely launch group for MomLogic would be the NBC-owned stations, which currently have two shows on the bubble: Warner Bros.' Bonnie Hunt and NBCU's own Deal or No Deal. Still, NBCU's status as a buyer may be on hold while the company sorts out its new ownership structure. Comcast announced on Dec. 3 that it would acquire NBCU.

Short term vs. long term

While all-barter shows solve a short-term need for stations, they could create longer-term problems. Too much barter inventory floods the advertising market, and most observers do not expect the off-cable strips to be highly rated, further weakening station time periods.

The lack of cash in the market, and lack of buyers with open time periods, may push Sony/Harpo's Nate Berkus project to 2011 as well. Sony is expected to have a shot at moving this year's rookie hit Dr. Oz to the Oprah slots on the ABC-owned and other stations in fall 2011. Observers then expect that the company would try to slot Berkus into the Dr. Oz slots. Oz was sold in two-year deals, so the show is cleared through the end of the 2010-11 TV season. Sony had no comment.

Of course, Dr. Oz isn't the only contender for Oprah's time slots, with Warner Bros.' Ellen DeGeneres, CTD's Dr. Phil, the expansion of local news and even moving ABC's The View all mentioned as options. As Disney-ABC Television Group President Anne Sweeney told Reu-ters last week: “We certainly are in the process of reviewing our options…it's going to vary station to station.”

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